There is a way to come back to ourselves, to create with gusto, when the world can feel like a giant steam roller of information and competition. This weekend a couple of our friends, who have converted a room in their home into a gallery, invited about a dozen of us to come over and see the exhibit, drink some wine, eat fresh baked bread, and have a conversation. It wasn't about evaluating the work, dealing out praise or blame, or selling. It was about ideas and friendship, creativity and play. I made discoveries about other artists that enlivened me. Our friends even re-designed the labels for the wine they served:
One of our discussions was about authenticity. What makes a piece of work authentic? The answer to this question came in different forms– each person's view was unique. We had the perspective of calligraphers, architects, designers, sculptors, painters and writers. Everyone chimed in. It struck me that the event itself, which was stripped of any one artist having hierarchy, where nothing was for sale, had already established an openness to what happens. What seems essential to all the viewpoints is to be willing to start from where you are, from a fidelity to how you see, rather than how you think you should see or be seen. And I think the other part of authenticity is being willing to listen.
This gathering with friends and art reminds me that there is a contagious enthusiasm evoked from generosity. Genuine appreciation for each other's work tempers the human tendency to be envious of other artists doing great things. We get to decide whether envy or criticism will take us down or fire us up. Instead of feeling woe is me, (or woe to anyone else), ask yourself: What do I want to strive for? And instead of stopping yourself with internal monologue ( I can't do that, or why wasn't I chosen?)– take the next step. Be willing to begin with where you are right now, not where you think you should be.
This exhibit in a friends' home/gallery created an atmosphere of friendliness and curiosity between artists. How do you reach out to other artists in your community? Look around, and give credit to those you think it belongs to. This is how creativity thrives. It withers in an atmosphere of competition and commerce. There is a lively underground of artists doing great work outside the restrictions of galleries and fame. Even the desire to create for posterity, to leave a mark or a trace, can become a distraction from living.
This isn't a contest but the doorway...
Everyone needs to have a way for getting food on the table, and connect with other people– but the act of making leaves all that behind. That is the paradox. The passion, the juice in a piece of work is when we forget about everyone else, even ourself. This takes courage and trust. The process is devotional, and renews our vision. The product is expendable, but the process is precious.*
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Prayer by Mary Oliver
*William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life